04 January, 2014

Christmastime Travels

Since I dedicated my last post to general Christmas traditions in Germany, in this post I will write about what I actually did over Christmas break and where my travels brought me.

As mentioned in my previous post, I spent the beginning of the vacation at Maxim's parents' house with him, his parents and his sister. We relaxed, had good home-cooked food, and on Christmas Eve we attended church and exchanged gifts. Then on Christmas Day (well, the first Christmas Day, December 25th) Maxim and I spent the afternoon at a spa! Normally we would have had to pay, but Maxim's parents had two coupons for four free hours of access to the pools and sauna area, so we got to go for free.

Since I've been in Germany I've now been to saunas a few times, and I'm really beginning to appreciate them more than I used to. In the US, I only went in a sauna once, and it was a small sauna in the pool area of a hotel so I didn't really get the full experience. Now, I think saunas are great. Sitting naked in a hot, dark room with total strangers, and following that with an icy cold shower, may not seem like the most comfortable experience, but the results are fantastic. There's nothing more relaxing than coming out of the sauna, rinsing off your sweaty skin in freezing water, wrapping up in a bathrobe, and laying down on a comfy chair to enjoy the warm, satisfied feeling in all of your muscles. After four hours of sauna and swimming, we came home, ate lots of food, and laid down on the couch to relax some more.

Since a few days before Christmas break, I'd known that Maxim and his family had a "surprise" for me, but I had no idea what it was. On Christmas I got a hint of what the surprise entailed, when Maxim told me we would be going somewhere the next day and instructed me to pack a bag with things for one night. Then, as promised, the next day we all piled into the car and set off to a destination that was still unknown to me. I didn't even know if we would be staying in Germany or not. It turns out that we were, but we were very close to the Austrian border. Our destination was a hotel near the town of F├╝ssen, where we spent that day and the following night. We got even more spa time, since this hotel also had a pool and several saunas, and there were even water beds for relaxing in after the sauna. I was so content and relaxed after the sauna that I almost fell asleep in my water bed.

After our spa time, we had a delicious and very filling five-course dinner. The courses that stand out in my memory now are the sweet chestnut soup, the salmon tartare, and the duck breast with orange sauce. All the food was excellent, and due to this I ate nearly every bite that was put in front of me.

When we were first driving to the hotel, we were all trying to catch a glimpse of the Alps, but since it was foggy that day we didn't have very much luck. The next day, however, Maxim and I woke up to this view out of our hotel room window:

There were the mountains in all their glory. When I opened the blinds and was greeted with this majestic view, I yelled "Yay!" from pure excitement. And my excitement that day continued when I found out what the second part of the surprise was...

...visiting THAT! That is Neuschwanstein Castle, one of the inspirations for the Cinderella Castle in Walt Disney World. (More info about Neuschwanstein can be found here.) The castle is improbably situated halfway up a mountain and requires a roughly 30 minutes hike (or carriage ride) from the ticket and information center at the bottom of the hill. The hike is worth it, though, since the view is much more impressive from up close.

This one was taken from a bridge on the opposite side of the castle from where the others are taken. You can see that the view changes a lot from different perspectives.
Me with a castle! :)
After returning from this wonderful trip, Maxim and I headed back to Karlsruhe in time for New Year's Eve, which we celebrated at his fraternity. It was a typical New Year's celebration, with socializing, drinking, and fireworks to welcome the new year. The only difference between this year and my usual celebrations in America is this year I finally got to kiss my boy at midnight :)

Yesterday brought even more travels, this time a day trip to Heidelberg, a city about 35 minutes north by car from Karlsruhe. I went with Maxim and our friends Robert and Bianca (Bianca is another American au pair). We spent some time walking through the old town, visited the university, had a bratwurst at the Weihnachtsmarkt (some cities have their christmas markets open past Christmas), and hiked up to the old castle. I didn't take many pictures, since picture taking can be such a chore, but here are the ones I did take.

The view of the castle from the river. The picture doesn't show it well, but the castle is partially in ruins, due to some circumstances that I'm unaware of. We didn't take the tour so I don't know the history of this one.

The streets are so pretty and colorful!

The view of the city from the castle.

Now I'm enjoying my last few days of freedom before real, post-Christmas life starts again. It's been really nice having so much time off being able to sleep as late as I want again. It will be hard to go back to my 8am German class again after this.


  1. I love the picture you took from your window in the hotel! What a wonderful Christmas present!

    Also, I have never been in a sauna at a spa, but I would love to try one day. Maybe I'll eventually get up the courage to be naked in front of a bunch of people, and then I can actually go.

    1. One of the things that surprised me about the sauna, which I meant to write in the blog post, is that it was surprisingly easy to be naked in front of people. If you just disrobe with confidence and remind yourself that you'll probably never see any of those people again, it gets easier. It was actually a very liberating feeling, since there aren't very many places in our culture where it's socially acceptable to be completely naked.